Tributes after former Doncaster Free Press boss dies at 59 while playing tennis 

John Bills, who has died aged 59.
John Bills, who has died aged 59.

Tributes have been paid to a former managing director of the Doncaster Free Press who has died at the age of 59 while playing tennis. 

Businessman John Bills died last week in Belfast and his funeral took place earlier this week.

Mr Bills was managing director of former Doncaster Free Press owners Johnston Press in the newspaper group’s North Midlands and South Yorkshire division, which also saw him in charge of sister titles including the Sheffield Star and Epworth Bells.

Mansfield born and bred, Mr Bills ran a number of large blue chip media businesses around the country. 

He began his career as a motors advertising rep for the Mansfield Chad newspaper and returned to the town in 2011 when he was appointed managing director for the Chad and a number of other titles including the Doncaster Free Press.

Before becoming a regional MD at Johnston Press, Mr Bills was in charge of a number of newspaper titles in the Midlands with Trinity Mirror.

He was promoted to JP group managing director in 2014, managing other regional MDs within Johnston Press and reporting directly to the then chief executive, Ashley Highfield.

He finally left JP in September 2017, prior to its re-emergence as JPIMedia last year.

He had recently retired with his partner Jo to a new home in Northern Ireland where he died last week while playing tennis. His funeral took place on Wednesday.

Yorkshire Post editor James Mitchinson, who worked with him at the Chad, said: “John taught me a style of management that helps to challenge and develop people in the right way, in the hope they fly higher than you ever could. He’ll be sorely missed.”

David King, chief executive of JPIMedia added: “John’s personal commitment and determination had a real impact on the people around him. Our condolences have been sent to John’s family.”

Tributes have also come from outside the industry, notably from the world of club rugby of which John was an avid follower and sometime participant.

Mansfield Rugby Club chairman Andy Foster said: “This is desperately sad news. There will be many people who would have known John either through our rugby playing days, work or school and this will come as a shock.”

“Our thoughts are with his partner Jo and all the family at the sad loss of a truly remarkable, wonderful and extraordinary man who was an inspiration to many of us as well as a much loved friend.”

Graeme Roberts, who knew John through Wirral RUFC from his time on Merseyside, said: “I suppose it should be a comfort that he died doing something he enjoyed. I can certainly verify that he gave his all when he played tennis. On the rare occasions I took a set off him he took it as a personal insult!”